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Charges and counter-charges flew thick and fast between the BJP and Congress following embattled liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s claim that he had met Union minister Arun Jaitley and offered to settle his dues.

The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party continued to target each other over the flight of businessman Vijay Mallya from India in 2016, with Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday reiterating his demand for the resignation of finance minister Arun Jaitley, accusing him of “colluding with” Mallya and “allowing the criminal to flee” and the BJP dismissing the charges with union minister Piyush Goyal countering that it was the Gandhi family’s “relations” with Mallya that caused banks to loan money to Mallya in violation of all norms.

Mallya, who fled India even as a debt court in Bangalore was set to act against him for defaulting on loans issued by several banks led by the state-owned State Bank of India, is in London where a court will pronounce its verdict in an extradition hearing against him on December 10. The court finished hearing the case on Wednesday.

Addressing a news conference at the Congress headquarters in Delhi, Gandhi also referred to his party colleague PL Punia, who alleged that he had seen Mallya in conversation with Jaitley on March 1, 2016, a day before the Kingfisher Airlines chief fled the country.

The context was a statement by Mallya on Wednesday, claiming that he met Jaitley before leaving India and offered to settle his dues. Jaitley immediately rebutted Mallya’s claim and maintained that he had not given the businessman an appointment since 2014, but that the latter used his privilege as a Member of Parliament (MP) and accosted him in Parliament. Mallya too admitted as much subsequently.

“Mr Jaitley is lying, the government is lying on Rafale and the government is lying on Vijay Mallya. A meeting was held with Mr Arun Jaitley and Vijay Mallya. The logistics of Mr Mallya leaving the country were discussed in that meeting,” Gandhi told reporters.

Describing it as an “open and shut case of collusion”, the Congress chief said there was some deal between Jaitley and Mallya, and demanded the finance minister’s resignation and a probe into the matter.

Later in the evening, Gandhi reiterated on Twitter his demand for Jaitley’s resignation.

Punia, who was present in the news conference, claimed that he saw the finance minister and Mallya in conversation in the Central Hall of Parliament on March 1, 2016 and two held an elaborate 15-20 minute meeting.

“On March 3, we heard from the media that he (Mallya) fled the country on March 2. I have clearly stated about this in each of my media interviews and TV discussions that I saw the two talking to each other. There are CCTV cameras. We can all see the CCTV footage of March 1, 2016 for the proof. If I am wrong, I will resign from politics. Otherwise Mr Jaitley should quit politics,” Punia said.

But the BJP rejected Punia’s claim. “Where was he for the last two-and-a-half years? Why was he silent for so long?” Goyal asked at a news conference at the BJP headquarters in Delhi.

“The finance minister has made it clear that he snubbed Mallya. Now the Congress got Punia to say he heard and saw the conversation. Why after two years did he suddenly remember the incident and decide to disclose it?” he said.

Goyal said Mallya was a criminal, had no credibility as he was under the “glare of law” and his words could not be taken seriously. He asked Gandhi to resign, claiming that due to his family’s “relations” with Mallya, banks were pressurised by the UPA government to sanction loans to the fugitive businessman bypassing all norms, laws and regulations.

Goyal alleged that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had told the media of his efforts to bail out private airlines making losses, in an apparent reference to Kingfisher.

“On August 18, 2010, a company-specific letter was sent to RBI (Reserve Bank of India) and the issue was resolved on August 27. In October 2011, Mallya thanked Manmohan Singh and said he needed more help and subsequently RBI was forced to come to their aid again,” the minister claimed.

Charging the Congress with spreading lies, Goyal said, “When they broke all laws with the help of banks and RBI and gave special allowances to Kingfisher, then people lost their money. Now, when they are being exposed, they are crying foul.”

He claimed that the Modi government had never extended any loans to Mallya or helped him in the recovery process, and alleged that “the (Gandhi) family and the (Congress) party that wasted people’s money is now trying to cover up its sins.”

The to-and-fro allegations also saw another one, regarding the Central Bureau of Investigation, which was investigating Mallya in connection with an IDBI Bank loan default, and dating back to 2015 being recirculated. The agency had issued a Look Out Circular for Mallya, asking for his detention in October that year but subsequently changed it to a circular that merely entailed being informed of his movements in November. On Thursday, a CBI official who asked not to be identified repeated the agency’s March 2016 clarification (soon after Mallya fled) that the original circular, seeking his detention was a mistake; that Mallya had, after the dilution of the circular, travelled in and out of India four times; that Mallya had, since the dilution, been questioned thrice; and that there was no inkling that he would flee.

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